Boarding a Flight with Your Dog? Here's What You Need to Know for Every Step of the Journey

Learn how to confirm your pet's accommodations and the best ways to keep your four-legged friend calm along the way.  

Like traveling with any member of the family, bringing along your beloved dog will require some preparation—especially when boarding a plane. One important element to keep in mind when taking a trip with your pet is their comfort. Dr. Gary Richter, DVM, medical director of holistic veterinary care and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition, says the first step in preparing for the flight is getting your dog used to being in a carrier. "Traveling will be a little stressful no matter what you do," he explains. "If your pet is comfortable in their carrier, they will do much better on the day of travel."

Another pro tip? Simply practice beforehand. "Leave the crate open for a week or two before the trip and let the dog go in and out at their leisure," says Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM and veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance, adding that you can put treats, food, or water bowls inside to make the crate experience a positive one. "Also, practice closing the door and leaving the dog in for short periods of time to start, then slowly increase the length of time. The goal is to get them used to being in the crate for the same amount of time that they'll be traveling." In need of other tips? To find out about the basics of traveling on a plane with your dog, we tapped our veterinarians to get even more of their advice.

dog in pet carrier at airport
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Confirm with the airline if your dog can board the flight before booking.

"Even before purchasing tickets, the first step is to either call the airline or go on their website to learn what options or rules they have for traveling with a dog," says Dr. Wooten. Since every airline does have slight differences in their pet practices, she explains that you should pose these questions with customer service as you get ready for your trip: Are dogs allowed to travel in the cabin? Are there any size restrictions? Are there any crating restrictions? Are there vaccine or parasite control requirements? What are the additional costs? Does a dog need to fit under the seat in front of you, in your lap, or can the dog sit at your feet? Do owners need to buy an additional ticket for their dog? Are there different rules for emotional support animals versus registered service dogs? Plus, if you have a larger dog, check to see if front or exit row seats are available to sit alongside your pet with more room.

Make sure your canine's veterinary records are up to date.

Going for regular veterinarian checkups is essential year-round, however, this is also especially necessary when planning to fly on a plane. "Some airlines also require the veterinarian complete a document stating the pet is healthy and properly vaccinated," says Dr. Richter. Note: The exam usually costs between $75 to $100 for this process. International travel (or Hawaii because of its strict no-rabies policy) requires even more paperwork for entry at destinations. "I suggest starting this process months before travel because depending on the destination, like Hawaii for instance, the process can take several weeks to months to complete, and all items must be done in the right order and at the right time," notes Dr. Wooten. "Otherwise, the risk is a dog sitting at customs for a couple of weeks upon arrival or getting turned around at the border."

She says pet parents should expect to pay about $200 to $500 for international or Hawaii pet travel certificates (including health, vaccine, and parasite control records). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps a running list of countries that could be high risk for rabies exposure. Also, due to COVID-19, you will need to be aware that access to USDA veterinary documents could take longer. The U.S. Department of State explained that the office has suspended in-person service because of the pandemic, which will cause delays in processing your requests (about two to three months from the date it was mailed in to their office).

Know where your dog will be seated on the plane.

In the event that your dog can't travel in the cabin with you, airlines will often seat your pet with the cargo. Dr. Wooten suggests inquiring about temperature control in that area, too. "The airline should know the required minimum and maximum temperatures allowed for animals traveling in cargo," she says. "Also, be aware that a dog may sit in a crate on the tarmac for an extended period of time, so it will be important to know what outside temperatures will be like as well." If your dog is elderly, has health issues, or has a short nose (brachycephalic canines), Dr. Wooten explains that it's necessary that they sit in the cabin. "Another alternative can be finding a company that just flies pets, as extreme temperatures or stress can have serious health implications for these animals," she adds.

Consider this day-of advice.

"Pets are going to be anxious on the day of travel and that is OK," says Dr. Richter. "If they are not in the cabin with the owner, they should absolutely not be sedated. If they are in the cabin with the owner and can be observed, natural or pharmaceutical options may help take the edge off." Common veterinary recommendations? Canine Calm and CBD to ease anxiety. However, always check in with your veterinarian for their supplement or medication suggestions.

Another way to keep your dog calm is by the carrier itself. Dr. Wooten points to a soft-side carrier if your dog is traveling in the cabin with you since it can be folded up when your canine is not inside of it. Otherwise, a hard-sided crate is her recommendation if your dog is placed with the cargo. Also make sure this crate has enough room for your four-legged companion to stand up, turn around, and get comfortable. "Putting a bath towel inside the carrier that has been used by the owner will help keep the pet calm, as it will have their owner's scent on it," adds Dr. Richter. "Pets also key off their owner's behavior, so a calm owner frequently means a calmer pet. Always make sure the pet is healthy enough to travel safely. I suggest consulting with your veterinarian to discuss this further before traveling with your pet."

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